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High school athletes urge Whitmer to allow sports

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Football teams, cheerleaders and volleyball players from across the state gathered on the Capitol lawn Friday to urge Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Michigan High School Athletic Association to guarantee high school sports will resume at Michigan schools. 

Linda Beachnau of DeWitt helped organize the "Let them play" rally on behalf of high school players across the state and specifically her son, Blake, who's hoping to play football and hockey in his senior year.

"Most of us are united around the idea that really the parents' voices and the kids' voices in the politics," Beachnau said. "It's up to parents to determine what is an acceptable level of risk."

High school athletes and parents gathered on the Capitol lawn Friday, Aug. 28, 2020 to protest changes to the high school athletic season during a "Let them play" rally.

Most high school athletes have already started practices, but the MHSAA recently delayed fall football in lower Michigan to the spring. And parents are waiting to hear whether sports like volleyball, soccer and swimming will be permitted given Whitmer's restrictions on indoor practice facilities in lower Michigan. 

More:DPS Superintendent Nikolai Vitti urges MHSAA to allow fall football in Michigan

Schools in northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula are allowed to play those sports under Whitmer's orders.

MHSAA director Mark Uyl said Wednesday that if Whitmer didn't make a decision by the end of the month, he'd likely have to shut down soccer, volleyball and swimming in lower Michigan. 

Michigan on Friday surpassed 100,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 100,699 positive cases and 6,446 deaths since the first cases were confirmed March 10. 

High school athletes and parents gathered on the Capitol lawn Friday, Aug. 28, 2020 to protest changes to the high school athletic season during a "Let them play" rally.

Health officials have warned about an increase in cases among younger individuals but the trend largely has involved college-aged students. 

For Grand Blanc senior Michael Storey, the uncertainty surrounding this season was a source of frustration given the precautions his football team took at practices to avoid spread of COVID-19. 

"I don't think there were any (rules) that we broke," he said. "We all showed up in masks. We all disinfected the bars of the weights that we use. We did social distancing. I don't think any of us ever got sick from it."

Storey and his teammates Cross Dobbs, a junior, and Carson Baker, a senior, will be taking online classes until the district decides otherwise. 

The Barks River-Harris High School stands on the Capitol steps Friday, Aug. 28, 2020 to protest changes to the high school athletic season during a "Let them play" rally.

The Barks River-Harris High School Broncos traveled from the Upper Peninsula's Delta County to participate in the rally.

Scott Lippens coached some of the athletes on the high school football team since they were little. He has two sons playing football and argued they can play without the risk being projected by state leaders..

"It's not fair to these kids that the right to play the game of football was taken away from them over something that is all political," Lippens said. 

Nick Javurek, a senior on the team, said football players are likely to take better precautions against the virus on and off the field to avoid getting the virus and ruining the team's chances.

"I'm going to be a legal voter in this upcoming election and it sucks I'm kind of being treated like a kid and my voice isn't being heard, even though my voice will be heard Nov. 3," Javurek said.

For Caledonia High School freshmen Alyson Chapin and Kirsten Schutte, the prospect of a lost football season also means a lost cheerleading season. The potential cancellation comes after the last school year was cut short and lingering uncertainty over the coming academic year.

"It's just added more to it and its not fair to us," Chapin said. "If we want to play we should play."

eleblanc@detrotinews.com